Detection of West Nile virus (WNV) has been reported in a variety of wild ducks in the US, but little is known about the pathogenesis and outcome of exposure of the disease in these species. Previous experimental studies of WNV in ducks either have challenged a small number of ducks with WNV or have tested domesticated ducks. To determine susceptibility and immune response, we challenged 7-wk-old Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) with a 1999 American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) isolate of WNV. Wood Ducks were susceptible to infection with the virus, and, although clinical signs or mortality were not observed, microscopic lesions were noted, particularly in the heart and brain. West Nile virus viremia peaked on day 2 postinfection (pi) at 104.54 plaque-forming units (PFU) of virus/mL serum and WNV was shed orally (between 102 and 102.9 PFU per swab) and cloacally. Specific anti-WNV antibody response was rapid, with anti-WNV IgM detected on day 3 pi followed on day 5 pi by anti-WNV IgG. Neutralizing antibodies were detected by plaque-reduction neutralization assay in one duck on day 4 pi, and in all sampled ducks on day 5. These results indicate that Wood Ducks are susceptible to WNV, but it is unlikely that significant WNV mortality events occur in Wood Ducks or that they play a significant role in transmission. However, WNV viremia was sufficient, in theory, to infect mosquitoes, and oral and cloacal shedding of the virus may increase the risk of infection to other waterbirds.
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Vol. 51 • No. 2